Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
In our New Testament lesson for today, we are met with a letter written to the church at Ephesus, and more broadly to all believers. Though not without dissention, authorship of the Ephesians epistle is commonly attributed to the Apostle Paul.
Paul, who would have been imprisoned in Rome at the time, is writing to new believers to remind them of God’s reconciling work in Christ Jesus, and to offer instruction regarding the way they should make sense of their Christian identity.
And so, the text begins with him declaring that he bows to his knees before God, praying for believers.
Paul’s bowing to pray defies the custom of his day to assume a standing position while praying, suggesting that it is with passion—with desperation and deep emotion that he makes his request known to God.
He prays that those who have placed faith in Jesus Christ may fully grasp, experience, and root themselves in love.
Like many trees and plants that extend into the ground, Paul desires that the body of believers have roots firmly attached to love.
Now friends, I do not profess to be a botanist; in fact, I somehow managed to kill an ivy, a plant known for its ability to grow and flourish in adversity. But it occurs to me that a plant’s “rootedness” in proper soil might be best described as its lifeline.
At a basic level, we can understand the roots to be the part of the plant’s body that extends beneath the visible surface of the ground.
Fastening to soil, the root’s connection to the soil anchors the plant to keep it from falling over. As those roots hold on to the soil for dear life, the plant is strengthened as it grows, and is helped to remain upright. Being rooted makes sure the plant gets the nutrients it needs to survive.
It seems then, that when Paul prays that the church be rooted in love, he is suggesting that just as being rooted in good soil proves to be the lifeline of a plant, being firmly attached to love is ultimately the lifeline of believers. Love is the good soil into which believers must be fastened. That love is the thing that ensures that we are well-nourished and stable.
This kind of love is not a love that merely “sounds nice,” without being exemplified in action.
It is not the kind of love that says, “I’ll treat you with neighborly respect and kindness, as long as your life choices fit within the confines of my prejudice.”
It is not the “I’ll love you as long as I benefit from it”, the “I’ll love you as long as you love me,” or the “I’ll love you as long as I think you deserve it” kind of love.
The love Paul invites us to be anchored to is one that is boundless. It is the love of the Living God.
In our Gospel lesson that Pastor Cathy read for us, we are invited to the scene, according to John’s account, where Jesus feeds 5,000+ people with 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish…much to the surprise of his closest companions.
Not only did everyone present receive a satisfactory portion, John tells us, but the fragments left over were enough to fill 12 baskets—evidence of a God whose compassion and power is more than sufficient; that it is abounding beyond that which we could fathom.
It seems then that John and Paul are of one accord. You see Paul’s description of God in verse 21, as one who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all we could ask or imagine, is the same God whose grace is proclaimed in the feeding of the 5,000. The same God whose love, Paul wants us to know, is overflowing—more than enough.
THIS is the love that Paul prays the church is rooted in.
It is the love that David knew personally, when he described it as the goodness and mercy destined to follow him all the days of his life. The one so much better than life, that it called praises to leap from his lips.
It is the love that the prophet Jeremiah avowed was everlasting, and the love that Solomon believed was unquenchable.
It is love that the hemorrhaging woman in Mark’s gospel learned was powerful enough to heal and affirm, and the love that the writer of John’s 1st epistle declared would drive out fear.
It is Love vast enough to persuade the God who hung the stars, to wrap God’s own glory in a skin suit and step into eternity.One that looks like the God who came, died, and was resurrected. Love that is strong enough to cover a multitude of sins. One that is more than enough and never runs out.
And friends, being situated in that kind of love is not easy. That love is not easy to give and at times, hard to receive. We are imperfect people. And we, who know our mistakes better than anyone else, can struggle to believe that this unbound love is actually available to us.
In addition, in our imperfection we make judgments about others. There are times when we are unkind and unforgiving. Some of us crave and abuse power. And others of us even contentedly exist inside of systems that oppress and marginalize others.
But if we take root in God’s love, we will find ourselves upheld by a love whose dimensions are immense and limitless. A love that surpasses that which we can make sense of.
If we make the choice to be anchored in that affection, it is and will be the thing that sustains us. That thing that nourishes our souls that we might be a Church (Capital C) characterized by wholeness. The thing that enables us to keep pushing when we’d rather crumble. The thing that calls us out of comfort to be better neighbors. That unexplainable thing that convicts and encourages us to truly be the body of Christ in the world.
In fact, if we really allow ourselves to take hold of God’s love—to situate ourselves firmly in it, we will find that we can give grace to that person we encounter at work—that one who seems to know just how to push all of our buttons. You know, the one who if they say or do one more thing, we just might lose it.
We will find ourselves strengthened to stand up with and for the marginalized, even when its inconvenient and uncomfortable.
We will find ourselves with a larger capacity to love others and love ourselves.
We will find ourselves like many plants, rooting deeper and wider as time goes on, able to access that which before seemed impossibly out of reach.
And I believe that we just might find ourselves seeing our communities repaired and our world transformed.
As we are anchored and rooted in that love, when storms come, when shame calls us by first, middle and last name, when division seems to be more widespread than unity, when injustice strikes us with breath-stealing blows…we will stand. And though we may bend, we will not break.
We will be like that unyielding tree planted by the water who has sent out roots by the stream—without fear, well-nourished, and immoveable.
Paul prayerfully beseeches his audience, as I believe the Holy Spirit beseeches us today, to be rooted in the love of Christ…whose length extends from everlasting to everlasting, whose breadth is wide enough to encompass all of creation, whose depth will reach to us in the deepest valleys, and whose height extends far above the realm of the earth.